Everyone knows the usefulness of what is useful, but few know the usefulness of what is useless.
Human beings do not have to make art to survive, which is why it’s relegated to the highest (last) place in Maslow’s much quoted hierarchy of needs.
But it’s a grave mistake to think that those things we are not obliged to do are not important to us. On the contrary, their importance arises precisely from the fact that we’re not obliged to do them. They’re important because we choose to do them, because we want to do them, because we wouldn’t feel ourselves if we couldn’t do them.
That is why every human society has produced art, and why its art is often the only aspect of that society to have survived the passage of time. Art exists because we need to make it. It survives because we treasure what others have made.
Useful things lose their usefulness as time passes and societies change: they get thrown away. Art never loses its value because it is not useful, but pleasurable, intriguing, unsettling, delightful, disturbing, amusing and entertaining.
Useful things can be explained and understood, finally, by an account of their purpose. Art, without a fixed purpose, can never be silenced by being understood. Someone will always discover new meanings, new questions and new pleasures in it.
Art is wrapped up in everything we want to do in the never-ending search to fulfill ourselves as human beings, to express our love, to speak our desires and our terrors, to create an identity, to build community, to make sense of life.
Art’s uselessness is one reason why, in a manner of speaking, it’s so very useful.